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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Rite of Spring (1913) [34.12]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for piano (four hands) (1938) [16.18]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Rapsodie espagnole (1907) [15.15]
Duo Miho and Masumi Hio, piano (four hands)
rec. Studio Odradek, August 2011
ODRADEK 855317003011 [65.45]

The booklet quotes Pierre Monteux, the conductor of the first performance of The Rite of Spring, as stating “that to hear the work without its orchestral colour is to lose one of its main attractions.” In fact, if I recall correctly, Monteux was describing - in his sleeve notes for his LP recording of the work for RCA - how Stravinsky had originally played the work at the piano for Diaghilev and himself, and that as the demonstration had continued he had become more and more convinced that Stravinsky was mad. If the great conductor felt that way about The Rite of Spring shorn of its instrumental colour, surely that must mean that for modern listeners any attempt to experience the work in the same way is doomed to failure.
 
Well, not entirely. We now know, as Monteux did not at that time, how The Rite sounds with a full orchestra playing it; and we can supply from our own memories of the score the colour that a piano reduction fails to supply. In addition, there are advantages to hearing the work in this way. The percussive piano provides a rhythmic drive that the full orchestra blunts. We can hear details of the counterpoint which can be smothered under the layers of instrumental colour. For this reason it is valuable - on occasion - to hear Stravinsky’s ballet unadorned. The two players here do a good job, giving us detail and force by turns.
 
In the same way it is easy to assume that the Rapsodie espagnole - correctly so spelled in the booklet notes, but mis-spelt as Rhapsodie in the track-listings - must inevitably suffer without Ravel’s masterly application of orchestral colour. In fact the piano version is the original of the score, composed the year before his own orchestration. Ravel composed a great many of his works in this way, and although we are generally more familiar with La Valse, Le tombeau de Couperin, Ma Mère l’Oie and the Pavane pour une infante défunte in their orchestral form, all were originally written for and performed on the piano. Ravel in fact regarded the two versions as complementary. Again, with the instrumental coloration in mind, we can appreciate his scores played on the piano as having validity in their own right, supplying from our memories the orchestral clothing as appropriate.
 
The Hindemith Sonata on the other hand exists only in the version for piano (four hands), and is a real rarity in the catalogues even in this form. I can find only one other recording currently available. It’s part of a Nimbus set of all Hindemith’s piano music played by Bernard Roberts and David Strong. The duo here are rather more leisurely than Roberts and Strong in the slow introduction to the final movement. Otherwise there is little reason to prefer one version over the other.
 
The recorded sound is present and lively, with a pleasant sense of resonance. If the coupling of these three works is attractive, there is no reason to hesitate. There is the additional attraction of Odradek’s royalties policy, which means that once pressing and distribution costs have been covered all profits go the artists themselves.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey   

Masterwork Index: Rite of spring